There is a time in my life that I had no idea was good until it was gone. Oh sure it wasn't great, in fact, it was hard for my family and resulted in the dissolution of my parents marriage and millions of American's struggled right along with us. But that time had winds of hope and a promise for tomorrow that I have seen ebbing ever since.
The time was 1976. The year of my birth. Its not like I remember it or anything- I was barely able to lift my head for much of that year, let alone know what was happening, but looking back it is the year I can claim as the most successful, because that was the year it all began to slip away while I walked the earth or more to the point, at that time, rolled.
I know it was good because I see the etchings of history on the TVs and the high watermark of a tide that floated all boats. And I saw it as the tide rolled away in the following decades as I became more and more aware of what was lost.
The 1970's had a bunch of good things. We had a feeling in this country that the turmoil of Vietnam had ended, the high of having just walked on the moon and the satisfaction that for the first time in our history, a black man was equal to a white man. And the zeitgeist bore it out as I would see on reruns and in retrospectives for years to come.
I think the 1970's were the true golden age of TV. Granted the 1950's saw the Honeymooners and the advent of TV news, but it was the 1970's where we truly learned the power of the medium and took it to new places that our Grandparents had never even thought to go. I quite frankly was a child of PBS, and while Howdy Doody raised my predecessors, Mr.Rodgers raised me. And he had a team of help from the Electric Company, the Reading Rainbow, and of course, the corporate monoliths of Sesame Street and Disney were at that time what they were supposed to be, agents of youthful education and learning still growing into their big boy pants.
The 1970s also saw the maturation of the American viewer, where women were allowed to leave the kitchen casting off their burning bras as they went out into the world to earn a living for themselves. Mary Tyler Moore, Rhoda, and Maude all bore out that women were a force to be reckoned with, no longer willing to sit back and enjoy the scraps that men left them. We also saw Black families not just as they WERE like on Good Times, but also where they could be as in The Jeffersons. We saw smart, sophisticated black men like Sidney Poitier, Robert Guillaume, and Harry Belafonte, who once would have been the butt of hapless stupid jokes in blackface, now stood proud of themselves despite being called "Uppity" by my Grandparents and Uncle.
We saw funny in new ways too with quietly angry, but the poignant humor of the Smothers Brothers, Laugh-In, and Saturday Night Live. Titans of the stand up played equally well on hardened Eastside Stages and fuzzy Puppet-strewn family shows. We will forever look back to Richard Prior, George Carlin, and Steve Martin knowing they brought us out of the dark ages of Comedy by crossing the barrier between Saturday night and Sunday Morning.
And let us not forget the metamorphosis of the White Male from Ward Cleaver into Archie Bunker. All in the Family broke molds in all sorts of ways on their own but multiplied its affect with spin-offs that had highly political messages like Maude, Good Times and The Jeffersons. The politics were clear but the message would have seemed ever so flat if not for the man in his easy chair spouting off as the first Tea Partier with the racism, fear and hostility so much of white America held in their hearts at this changing landscape. Archie gave voice to our fears as white men and showed us for who we were so we could endeavor to change and grow. Many did, some didn't.
TV is a testament to where we were at the time, with Oil Embargoes, a flagging economy, Presidential shame and rampant Jim Crow. It is for all intents and purposes a time machine to take us back to where we were then and every flashback show, rerun and hour of TV Land that heralds us back shows us for who we were, a more gentille, innocent if not angsty teenage audience with pains of growth.
It wasn't the best of times, far from it. But it was the last time I would see an America that had high hopes, a living wage, and culture of progress and evolution. In the 1980s, we discovered the power of Money and ME and in the 1990s we discovered the power of antidepressants. The turn of the Century saw the end of an era when buildings fell and the fervor of patriotism set the flag on fire. And now that we are in Apres Millenial glow in the Great Recession, we wonder if we will ever get back to where we once were?
And from the 1970s comes a man. Frozen for the last 40 years, trapped in a Vermont Glacier, he emerged accidently when Global warming and Corporate Greed freed him from his icy prison cell. He has risen from his cold storage, dusted off his 1960's optimism as if awaken from a binge at Woodstock, and has stepped into the American limelight. A modern day Rip Van Winkle roused from four decades of sleep, complete with spectacles and wild white hair he has come, with his warm lovable sidekick, a jolly wise-cracking polar bear named Hope and Change. He has come to our time to remind us of what was once and tell us it can come again if only we can awaken the feelings of hope and drown the fever of apathy in the rising tide of change. His nemesis' are a Firey Blond Witch spouting lies from the Establishment named Hillary and a Shrewd Billionaire Tycoon with Electric Hair set on causing mayhem and destruction named "The Donald". Tune in this Saturday at 8 PM Eastern and Central, 9 PM Mountain and Pacific for the Block Buster Two-hour Special Season Premier of Bernie and the Bear: An American Reclamation Story.
Ok maybe not. Maybe I should have watched a little less TV back in the day? But it taught me to read, taught me to love my neighbors and even taught me how to count to ten. And it did it all in half hour episodes.
Published by Christopher Richard